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Paul Shea Athlete Ambassador

by Alexandra Parren

running outdoors fitness

Paul is a triathlete who went from never thinking he could run a half marathon to completing Ironman UK and even enjoying it. He talks to Sundried about life as a triathlete.

Have you always been into sport?

I’ve played some sort of sport pretty much my whole life, albeit within the confines of my own ability. Football was number one before hockey took over in my mid teens. I got into running a little bit later on - watching my then girlfriend (now wife) Lex running the Leeds half marathon whilst I tucked into a McDonalds breakfast; I couldn’t imagine ever running that far, or even why you’d want to attempt to.

Eventually, Lex’s achievements inspired me to get involved in running as a hobby and I’ve not looked back, applying my limited ability but high level of stubbornness to running, cycling and even a bit of swimming.

How did you first get into triathlon?

Once into running in a bigger way, I became slightly obsessed with the idea of an Ironman; the thought of being able to keep moving for that distance seemed impossible. Like a lot of people I’ve met in the running and cycling communities, I’ve always been goal-orientated and don't let the little details get in the way - my first foray into cycling was to book myself into a 3-day bike ride though the Alps, despite at that point not having a bike or having done any meaningful cycling since my paper round 10 years previously.

Whilst it took me a few years to add swimming to the repertoire, when I did, the obvious direction was towards an Ironman. I did a couple of half distance races to warm up, with my third triathlon being the Bolton Ironman in 2017.

What has been your favourite race to date and why?

The Bolton Ironman was my favourite race from a pure ‘get it done’ perspective, but the John O’Groats to Land’s End bike ride was probably my favourite ‘race’ overall, albeit over 9 days. Having decided to do the trip on a whim and with my longest ride in training being a mammoth 35 miles, I was pretty nervous. Glorious weather and scenery in Scotland got the momentum up, and I really did get a sense of having completed something epic when finally rolling up to Land’s End.

An honourable mention should also go to The Great North Run. The crowd somehow make running 13.1 miles up a dual carriageway an absolute pleasure.

What is your proudest achievement?

The Bolton Ironman in 2017 was a culmination of 18 months of training. It was a big sacrifice not just for me, but my wife, who had to put up with early starts, angry outbursts and constant tiredness.

For the first time, I followed a training plan, ate more sensibly and made myself a race plan which meant I could enjoy the day and worry less about just getting over the line.

Because I’d actually prepared and done the right things (and didn’t have any major disasters barring losing my bike rack spot in T2!) the race went as well as could be hoped for - like a big training day with the added bonus of constant food and an awesome crowd.

Have you ever had any racing disasters?

Whilst I’ve been pretty lucky from a racing perspective, I’ve had a pretty epic training fail. Whilst on a routine run with my sometime running buddy (Bella the Hungarian Vizsla) we had a minor disagreement on direction, with the resultant fall leaving me with a broken and dislocated left shoulder. Oops.

The fall was 8 weeks into a 30-week training plan for the Outlaw iron distance triathlon in Nottingham. I worked hard to get back to something like sufficient fitness to complete the day, however the biblical rainfall overnight meant the bike leg was cancelled; I also managed to slice the bottom of my foot during the swim, which meant a painful half was completed before I threw the towel in. The Outlaw was clearly cursed!

How do you overcome setbacks?

Being in my mid-30s, injuries are (annoyingly) becoming more common. There’s no magic formula to get over the knock back in confidence and feeling of fitness that comes with a lay-off. My main strategy is to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t do; after breaking and dislocating my shoulder I tried to do cross training - flexibility exercises, swimming and the turbo trainer.

I found setting micro goals particularly important - it’s amazing how quickly the small gains get you back up to speed, especially because the competitive instinct doesn’t disappear - you’ll always want to do more!

What advice do you wish you'd been given when you first started out?

I would say stretch more, but as a runner first and foremost, I know that would fall on deaf ears.

My two bits of advice would be:

1. Train hard, race easy. A massive cliche, but the Ironman race was a success because I followed a plan and trained harder than I’ve ever done before - this made sure that I could stay out of the red zone on race day. It made the whole day way more relaxing than knowing I'd cut corners. 

2. Share your goals - make them as public as you dare. When training gets hard (and it will get hard!), knowing your goals are out there will keep you motivated and on track; you’ll find support you never knew was out there.

What are your goals?

Having had a few injuries over the last couple of years, I’m really pleased to be running consistently again, so my current goals are at some pretty ‘standard’ distances:

  • Sub 18:20 5k;
  • Sub 38:00 10k;
  • Sub 1:25 Half;
  • Sub 3:00 marathon
  • (And if I get time) 1 more Ironman

I don’t suspect I’ll hit all of my goals next year, but I’ve found that being ambitious and training at the edge of your limits is the best form of motivation going.

Who inspires you?

Anyone that pushes themselves beyond what they (or others) thought was possible. Kipchoge’s sub 2 hour marathon was phenomenal, but I also found it really inspiring to see the story of Tim Don’s recovery from a broken neck in terms of what can be done when you’re up against it. Outside of the elite-level, you only need to look around at training buddies and fellow age groupers to see what they are going through to complete, which in itself is hugely motivational; it’s easy to forget how much sacrifice people put in to get to the start line in the first place.

Why work with Sundried?

Given the state of the planet, we need to make as many changes as possible to live more sustainable lifestyles; there’s lots I personally need to do to live a truly sustainable life, but changing to more eco-friendly running and cycling kit is one of the easier ways to take a step in the right direction - it’s a pleasure to spread the word to my wider network. Sundried also prove that making clothes in a sustainable way doesn’t inevitable also mean you need to have a fashion bypass, making the switch even easier.

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